Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to speak about children – boys and girls – and Say: “O Muslims, O fathers and mothers, O my followers, be kind and compassionate towards children, for someone who is not kind to children has no place amongst the Muslims.”
Blessed be childhood, which brings down something of heaven into the midst of our rough earthliness.
Henri Frederic Amiel 1821 – 1881
Last week I received a message from Bani Gala, Islamabad.
I’ve been waiting for your post on ‘Elsa’ for months now. I know you made a decision to refrain from posting personal stories on the blog, but I believe this post will really help shed light on many things. I therefore encourage you to share it.
In January 2016, a lady who suffers from Bulimia Nervosa messaged me on my Facebook page. She hails from a family of fashion designers. Through her, I really had a very privileged opportunity to understand the fashion world on an intimate level.
March 2016- Meeting Wife No.1 in Bani Gala (This is what she wants to be addressed as)
On Thursday, a day before Friday which is a day of great significance to the Muslims, as it is a day off for them to pray, get connected to God and be happy, I was making my way to a special place quite a drive from my house, which you could say in the outer skirts of Islamabad, but within Islamabad.
I am here to research and to make sure the money of Sadqa (voluntary donation) is going into the right hands. I was sent this money by someone in the UK. The act of charity is very noble and highly admired by Allah. It is also said that whatever you will spend for good, you will get everything back in more. The Sadqa money was going to feed destitute orphans in a Quranic institute. For the last ten years, Muslim governments across the world have closed these institutes down. ‘A pressure from outside,’ they tell us. Government is very quick to close down these institutes, but no one really thinks about these neglected abandoned souls.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
— Nelson Mandela
And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive.
The wife No.1 wanted to meet me before I went back to UK.
“Oh, you’ll be passing Bani Gala, Why don’t you stop here, pick me up and I’ll come with you, that gives us time together. I’m very busy these days. My daughters and niece are arriving from the States tomorrow, and we will be off to Phuket for holidays.” She told me over the phone.
My taxi stops and an immaculately dressed lady with stunning features meets me. “I just wanted to get away, I just wanted to get away from everything.” she tells me.
“Our daughters are changing, and the young one looks like a walking version of Elsa from frozen and He hates that.”
“He hates it very much.
He wants them to develop their own unique personalities
He wants them to achieve new feats, but not in fashion.
And of course, I am to blame.” She tells me.
“I tell him, it’s normal, every 5-10 year girl wants to be Elsa.
I tell him that, but he refuses to listen.”
“He wants both girls to be Daddy’s little innocent girls forever, how is that possible?” She asks me.
“Do you like what I’m wearing?” She laughs, “it’s two sizes small. He wants me to model this so people know our collection will be launching soon.” I can see she’s uncomfortable in that outfit, it’s quiet small for her.
And we arrive at this special place miles away from Bani Gala.
We enter a house which was left by a late elderly man in his will. This house welcomes destitute children.
“Get them off streets, shelter them, teach them the word of God,” were his instructions.
His children who are caretakers of this property, manage it hesitantly. They are worried about the government. They are worried one day they’ll be forced to close down. “What’s going to become of these children? We just teach them Qur’an with correct pronunciation. We help them to memorize it. Once they’ve memorised it, they leave. They all come here to learn.” They tell us.
We see the little girls running around. They are all expecting us. They are expected to be on their best behavior.
Wife no.1 is shocked, “look at these poor girls,” she tells me. “How can they live like this? No TV here.” Poverty is everywhere.
The patron shows us around. After days of little eating, today was a day of feast. Children feasted on succulent meat dishes and rice. Their bellies were full, and there was a light in their eyes.
I speak to the girls, their manners are impeccable.
We listen to The Quranic recitation by young girls. It’s soulful.
These girls have no sense of fashion. They are shy, polite and full of pure light and innocence. They get up before sunrise and retire at sunset. They play in fields. That’s a reason for their energy. They make their own beds. They help out with chores and they help each other out.
They are not lonely and not stuck indoors 24/7, relying on the virtual world for company. “Where are you from?” I asked a little girl. She names a place hours and hours away.
“I miss my Amma,” her elderly granny. “Look he’s my brother. He’s my brother now.” This boy has no family. He was left here 5 years ago and was raised here.
She holds a little baby in her arms.
“The soul is healed by being with children.”
Somehow they’ve accepted it here. They don’t know anything else. They don’t know the world of fashion and media. They only know hunger and they know how to pray hard for food when they are very very hungry. They know importance of donors, because these donors keep the light burning in their house and keep the wood burning in the stove.
Half of the children had the same story to tell. They were happy, but their real happiness was their family. “I’m going home tomorrow.” This little girl tells me. “My dad is coming.” It’s expensive to go home. So some of them remain here 320 days a year.
This year’s winter in Islamabad was harsh. It’s very cold here at night. They freeze. It’s impossible to keep warm. But their spirits are high.
Our food has made a temporal difference. So much is needed here. I distribute a gift from UK to these children. Packets of biscuits as their treat. It cost £5 to buy 300+ packs. They are happy.
We say goodbye.
Wife no.1 is so quiet. “What’s wrong,” I ask her?
“Nothing” and then she broke down. “I hated them, I hated those little girls who ran around carefree. I hated them, do you know why?” Baffled and shocked I stare at her, “because they are free. There’s no Elsa here.”
I hate them because they don’t know who Elsa is, because Elsa can’t reach them here. I hate them because they are not building pre-conceived notions on how women should be. My 8 years old daughter is a spitting image of Elsa. She throws tantrum. She wants blond hair and she thinks she’s fat.
“I’m scared Maha. Look at their rosy cheeks? Look at their bright eyes, look at their innocence. I wish my daughters were carefree like them. My 13 years old looks like 15 year old. She’s a spitting image of Miley Cyrus, you know Hanna Montana? It’s sickening. We always argue, she thinks it’s normal to clog her lash line with eyeliner and to wear tons of blusher and bronzer on her cheeks. The reality is when you go out in public that way, when you present yourself to the world that way, it really does touch on the oversexualization of little girls. It devalues their childhood, and I think they need to hold onto just being kids longer. I was speaking to the eldest girl here; she’s 12 years old, and I thought how lucky are you, you are not being pushed into dressing and acting beyond your age.” She’s crying now, and I don’t know what to say.
“That’s why we bought a house here in this area so that they can have an access to nature, a life away from glitz and glamour of Karachi and LA. But we are failing. They are so lippy.”
Media has a great influence on young people. We can’t refute that. And yes this is the reality of life. Ironic isn’t it? A man, a so-called great fashion designer forces women to dress the way he wants them to dress, but when it comes to his daughters, he doesn’t want them in the public eye, he doesn’t want to sexualize them. He doesn’t want them to focus on their appearance and on beauty.
As I enter my area, the sun is setting.
Soon it will be time for prayer. I see young, carefree children on streets, selling, buying sweets and I pray they remain this way full of light and innocence.
Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Be kind to your children, and excel in this kindness.